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Charlotte Amalie
Monday, July 22, 2024


The Senate met in full session Tuesday to complete work started on Monday, but failed to finish all the previous day's business. However, it did pass a monumental number of amendments highlighted by a reallocation of tobacco settlement funds, with 100 percent going to health care, and passage of a government employees retirement bill.
Sen. Allie-Allison Petrus managed to resurrect the tobacco settlement bill after it had been carved in two, with half the money going to health concerns and half to the union arbitration fund. And Sens. Rocky "Almando" Liburd, Donald "Ducks" Cole and David Jones finally got their retirement measure approved.
The early retirement bill, which has been around since early this year in different versions, is a voluntary system for employees with 25 to 30 years of service to purchase advance credits on their years of service, allowing them to retire before 30 years. By taking 8 percent from their salary, they would pay for the credits.
Sen. Almando "Rocky" Liburd passed an amendment to make the option
available to persons with only 25 years of service to purchase up to a maximum of five years of advance service credits in order to receive benefits upon retiring. The original bill had been from 28 years only.
For instance, an employee with 27 years could make a lump-sum payment to the program for the remaining three years and begin receiving benefits. Employees with 30 years of service would receive a lump-sum incentive payment.
There was some discussion between the senators and Campbell Malone, legislative post auditor, about exactly how many employees are eligible for the program, before the amendment was voted on.
The amendment passed, 12-3, with Sens. Lorraine Berry, George Goodwin and Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg voting no.
Like Monday's session, other measures kept popping up, including announcement of a bill by Senate President Vargrave Richards that would create a part-time Legislature, cut senatorial salaries almost in half and limit sessions to not more than 90 days.
Another issue referred to a published report regarding the Public Services Commission investigation into the V.I. Telephone Corp.'s rates. Donastorg had sponsored legislation passed on Monday approving the investigation. The published report said the investigation would be "unconstitutional because it . . . violates the separation of powers doctrine." It referred to a legal opinion written by Sandra Adams, assistant legal counsel of the Legislature, to Sen. Gregory Bennerson on June 28, 2000.
Donastorg produced a legal opinion from Attorney General Iver Stridiron which states the amendment is "legally sufficient and does not violate the separations of powers doctrine."
Donastorg amended the bill passed Monday to read: "the PSC to commence a rate investigation of any public utility within 30 days of enactment of any law mandating the rate investigation."
Other legislation passed Tuesday:
– a bill to authorize the Public Finance Authority to sell up to $75 million in Grant Anticipation Revenue, or GARVEE, bonds, which would be backed by the territory's annual $12.7 million transportation grant from the Federal Highway Administration. The funds will be used for capital improvement projects.
Amendments were passed to:
– extend IDC benefits for the V.I. rum industry;
– give property tax benefits to owners of rehabilitated property in blighted areas;
– correct a 2000 budget error in the Taxi License Fund;
– eliminate the sunset clause for the operation of cruise ship casinos when docked in St. Croix;
– take from the Industrial Promotion Fund $250,000 to purchase two acres of property at Estate Zufriedenheit, adjacent to Drake's Seat, to develop a tourist attraction with bathroom facilities;
– authorize the Public Works Department to contract with independent contractors to provide public restroom facilities in town areas on all three islands.
The amendments were all attached to a bill to rezone three plots on St. Croix in Estate La Vallee.
There remain several bills and amendments on the agenda which were not acted upon. Though the two-day session, two bills of heightened community interest were never heard: A bill to increase the penalties for aggravated rape and lower the age of consent, and another bill to stiffen penalties for animal cruelty now rest on Richards' desk. He has not yet set a new date top hear the balance of the bills.
On Wednesday, the Finance Committee will commence the Fiscal Year 2001 Budget hearings with an overview of the budget. Ira Mills, director of the Office of Management and Budget, and Rudolph Krigger, the governor's fiscal adviser, sent letters to Committee Chairwoman Lorraine Berry on Monday saying they couldn't attend some of the sessions. Berry said she was waiting to hear from Gov. Charles W. Turnbull on the absences.

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